800 swimmers strong, Mesa Aquatics Club rising to the top - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

800 swimmers strong, Mesa Aquatics Club rising to the top

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Posted: Saturday, December 8, 2012 1:14 pm | Updated: 2:35 pm, Mon Dec 10, 2012.

What started in a Mesa backyard pool in the 1950s has since become one of the top 200 swimming clubs in the United States.

The Mesa Aquatics Club has seen a number of owners and directors over the past 60 years, but new co-directors Paul and Laura Smith have expanded MAC from 123 swimmers in 2009 to approximately 800 as 2012 nears its close.

Paul Smith, MAC’s CEO and coaching director, cited three specific reasons for the club’s steep ascent in recent years: a family atmosphere, word of mouth, and two refurbished pools.

“When people in the swimming community heard about the newly remodeled Kino and Skyline Aquatics Centers in Mesa and found out we would be the coaches, it kind of became the perfect storm,” he said.

The transformation started when the Smiths were encouraged by MAC founder Ron Johnson to take over the masters portion of the club, which catered to swimmers 18 and older. The couple started out training six master swimmers for MAC in September 2009 and by January 2010, more than 100 swimmers had joined the masters program.

“Even though we had our sales jobs, we were always involved in swimming as a passion so when the new pools opened in 2009, we knew there was a chance to bring MAC back to life again,” Paul Smith said.

Their success was so rapid that by March of 2010, after head coach Brad Hering resigned, the Smiths were asked to take over the entire operational side of the pool.

Laura Smith, co-director and strength coach, knew taking over the operation would be a risk taking over a business in this economy.

“It was one of those times in our life where we said, we’ve got to be all in, there’s no safety net, and its either going to work or its not,” she said. “Quitting our jobs for MAC was one of the best things we did because now we have no reservations.”

In addition to winning its first state championship in March, MAC can also take credit for helping groom 2012 U.S. Olympic swimmer Breeja Larson, a former standout swimmer at Mesa’s Mountain View High School.

Larson trained with MAC briefly before the Olympics, and the Smiths cite her support of the club as valuable to their efforts with younger swimmers.

“Breeja was part of the early stages of this program and trained with us 6 months before she left for Texas A&M, where Coach Steve Bultman trained her for the Olympics,” Paul Smith said. “We enjoyed having Breeja stop in and swim with us when she was home for the last two summers. The younger kids in the program really look up to her.”

In addition to attracting exceptional athletes to their club, the Smiths hope to attract community partnerships as well.

Jim Zaharis, vice president of education for Greater Phoenix Leadership and a former MAC swimmer, recently became chairman of the club’s advisory board with a mission to develop partnerships with schools, cities and foundations.

“This is a wonderful program and I believe it will be an economic engine for the East Valley,” Zaharis said.

The Smiths hope to create a positive impact on the economy by making MAC a destination to host premiere swimming events and competitions.

In April 2013, MAC will host The USA Swimming Grand Prix Series at Skyline Aquatics Center, 845 S. Crismon Road.

The club received a four-year contract to host this event each April starting in 2013 and leading up to the 2016 Olympics

The Grand Prix Series, Paul Smith said, is one of the key events in preparation for the Olympic trials and is considered the “crown jewel and the super bowl of the swimming world.”

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